British pro wins Poker Players Championship after an epic heads-up battle
July 6, 2017 (Las Vegas, NV) - Elior Sion doesn't play many tournaments. In fact, he only played one tournament this year. He won it in the early hours of Friday morning.
After five long days, the 26-year-old British poker pro won his first World Series of Poker bracelet in arguably the most prestigious event of the summer. Sion won $1,395,767 and his first bracelet after defeating a field of 100 players in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship.
"I mean, it feels amazing," said Sion after his win. "It's been a long day playing with some of the best players in the world. A tournament like this is like a long journey. You just need to take it a step at a time. There are a few blips along the way, but as long as you still have chips, anything can happen. At the final table, cards fell my way and I was fortunate enough to win."
Sion took part in a long, heads-up battle with Johannes Becker, another 26-year-old pro from Europe. Becker, a German pro, took a better than 3-to-1 chip lead into heads-up play against his British counterpart. Sion wasn't fazed at all by the chip deficit and rather quickly erased it and took a sizable chip lead of his own.
The two battled for nearly five hours with the chip lead changing hands multiple times before Sion emerged victorious. Both Sion and Becker make their living playing high-stakes online cash games, but when the dust settled, however, Sion only had positive things to say about his opponent's game. Becker earned $862,649 for his runner-up finish.
"It did swing a lot back and forth and then in the last level when the blinds changed, just everything fell my way," said Sion. "It was just, it felt like it was going to be over pretty quickly because the blinds were so big. Johnny played really, really well. I've played with him online a bunch. He's learned mixed games very recently and he's showing he's able to compete with the best int he world. I have a lot of credit for him and everyone else at the final table."
With the Poker Players Championship taking on an 8-game format, it takes a very well-rounded player to take down the title and have their name etched into the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy. The high-stakes and the mixed games bring out the game's most elite players with players' strengths coming in different games.
For Sion, there was one specific player that he wanted to stay away from at the final table. Fortunately for Sion, that player hit the rail early.
"The person who I probably feared most was probably Daniel Negreanu," said Sion. "Just watching him play, he has really kept with the game. He knows what's going on almost always. He's my biggest threat and to see him not get any cards at the final table, really, he didn't have a chance to win. That kind of opened the gates and that let me do my thing."
Negreanu came into the day as the chip leader, but hit the rail much earlier than he would've liked. He finished fifth and took home $300,852 for his deep run.
The title and the money of the Poker Players Championship puts the champions of this event in the spotlight, but that's not what Sion is looking for. He prefers to keep to himself and use the money to propel himself into another arena.
"To be honest, I'm not really there for the fame or anything," said Sion. "I enjoy playing and I'm just trying to win. I don't really have goals. Poker has always been like a stepping stone in life. It's let me do the things I really wanted to do. With the win, I'll finally be able to do a few things that I got in the back of my mind."
He plans on using the biggest tournament score of his career to help launch a real estate business of his own back in London.
"I want to start my own business," said Sion. "I want to get involved in property. I don't see poker as a long-term goal for me. Everybody is different, so I respect every aspect of this."
Sion made a name for himself playing cash games online and eventually turned from some of the big bet games he initially played into the mixed games. The freedom that he had playing cash games makes the rigid schedule of a five-day tournament more of a grind for him.
"You have certain times to do what you have to do," said Sion. "You have to go to the bathroom when you're told to. You have to play when you're told to. And I'm kind of not that type of guy. For me, that's what I struggle with. I prefer to just go with the flow and do what I want to do. I guess with cash games I'm used to that kind of freedom. So, mentally it was kind of tough and physically. Accumulate that five days in a row and I'm just drained and want to go to sleep."
Cards got in the air at 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon with the final six players returning for the fifth and final day of play to play down to a winner. Paul Volpe was the short stack and was eliminated in sixth place. He was eliminated in 2-7 triple draw when the eventual champion made a 7-6-5-4-2 on the last draw against Volpe's pat hand.
Volpe netted $220,111 for his finish and five-handed play lasted a couple hours with Sion, Haxton and Becker moving towards the top, while Negreanu fell to the bottom of the pack.
Negreanu got the last of his chips into the middle in pot-limit Omaha against Ivo Donev. Donev tabled pocket aces and the nut flush draw, which had Negreanu's weaker flush draw, bottom pair, and a gutshot straight draw in bad shape.
Negreanu made his flush on the turn, but was drawing dead to the river against Donev's nut flush. He started the day as the chip leader, but fell short of his seventh career bracelet. He was eliminated in fifth place.
Donev was the next to fall when he was eliminated by Isaac Haxton in no-limit hold'em. Donev got all in with pocket kings against Haxton's pocket fives. Haxton hit a two-outer on the river, however, to eliminate Donev in fourth. He earned $419,337.
Haxton and Becker held nearly identical stacks, having the chip lead during three-handed play. Sion was the decisive short stack, but this wasn't anything the London native hadn't dealt with before in this event.
"I lost most of my chips on one of the middle days," said Sion. "I had a very small stack and I managed to run it back up again. In tournaments, anything can happen. You just have to believe. I guess sometimes, things do fall your way. I got left with maybe 70,000 after almost a 2 million pot.
"Even after I lost that pot, I wasn't frustrated at all. I just kind of took it in stride and I think that kind of worked in my favor because after I got all of my chips back, a couple people said 'You deserve it. You didn't even complain.' So, they were kind of fearful of me in that sense that they saw that nothing really fazed me."
What looked like was going be the turning point of the tournament came in three-handed play. Becker doubled through Haxton in a complete cooler hand of no-limit hold'em. Haxton picked up pocket kings and ran into Becker's pocket aces.
They got all in on a flop and Haxton couldn't spike a king to eliminate the German. Instead, he was left as the short stack and eliminated by Sion just a few hands later.
Then, the real battle started. A see-saw battle that went back and forth between two online cash game wizards. Eventually, caught the rush he needed and put away Becker in Omaha Hi-Lo.
Sion flopped a full house against Becker's flush draw and low draw. Becker was drawing dead for half of the pot, but couldn't make a low to stay alive, which secured Sion's place in poker history.
"I don't think it's quite hit me yet," said Sion. "I never really expected to win. I was just trying to keep going on step further and then here I am, so I'm quite a bit shocked myself."
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Final Table Results:
1st: Elior Sion - $1,395,767
2nd: Johannes Becker - $862,649
3rd: Isaac Haxton - $595,812
4th: Ivo Donev - $419,337
5th: Daniel Negreanu - $300,852
6th: Paul Volpe - $220,111